St Mary’s was built in 1911 to house up to 65 young girls and older voluntary admissions of the Preservation Class. Members of the Preservation Class included young children who were bought to the Convent by guardians who were too poor to support them. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the children of new migrants boarded here while their parents established themselves. Downstairs were classrooms and a dining area, with dormitories upstairs. During the 1970s, St Mary’s was used to accommodate girls with disabilities.
In the 1990s, La Trobe University leased the building to a group of young artists as day studios but the group began secretly living there. Security guards knew there were unauthorised ‘live-in residents’ but saw the group as providing a ‘presence’ on site, so they turned a blind eye. After much restoration work, the whole of St Mary’s (and a section of Mercator) has been the home of the Sophia Mundi Steiner School since mid-2006.
The 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games sparked a renewed interest in sport, particularly for children. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd followed the trend by installing tennis and netball courts for the students of St Mary’s in 1958, and in 1968 they built a swimming pool. While mainly used by St Mary’s girls, the pool was available for all of the Convent girls. Still standing are the cream brick toilets and changing rooms to the north of the pool.
The pool fell into disrepair when the Sisters left the site in the late 1970s. Today, the pool has been altered and is now a community space. The general public is welcome to use the playground and tennis/basketball courts outside school hours. Heritage guidelines maintain that all contemporary interventions to the site are reversible, meaning this space can one day perhaps be used again as a swimming pool.